Portland's beloved Commons Brewery is closing.
Their space has been leased by California brewer Modern Times, beer blog Brewbound reports.
"We're incredibly excited to be coming to Portland, and we're so looking forward to becoming a pillar of the local brewing community in a city we love so dearly," wrote Modern Times CEO Jacob McKean in an announcement.
The news is dire for fans of the Commons, whose Urban Farmhouse was our beer of the year in 2013, back when they operated out of a tiny warehouse space in the central eastside.
More recently, however, Commons had seemed to enter into a second renaissance with a wave of German beers and innovative ales.
Rumors began to swirl that the Commons was in trouble after brewer Sean Burke departed without warning in June. Another brewer then quit behind him. The whispers were especially loud that Commons was being acquired by another craft brewer.
In August, we ran into Commons brand manager Josh Grgas while he was having lunch at a restaurant and asked about those rumors. He denied them, declaring that the brewery previously had been overstaffed.
When asked whether the Commons was selling, Grgas said, "I can't comment on that, because it's not happening."
He said he was the last to hear of rumors the Commons was being acquired, and that the Commons would continue as it had been, but with fewer brewers.
It turns out that Commons is not being acquired. Instead, it's ceasing production entirely at the end of the year.
"Unfortunately, this is a classic small business cash flow story," Commons' owner Mike Wright wrote in a statement. (He did not immediately respond to WW requests for comment.) "Sure, there is plenty of industry nuance and hindsight that can be evaluated, but this boiled down to simple debits and credits. That's the sinister simplicity of a cash flow problem. Your debt is clearly defined, but revenue is a rollercoaster. The belief was that we'd eventually break out and get past those challenges. We did not."
Wright also wrote that he planned to reboot the Commons in some form in the future.
"I am motivated to find a pathway forward for The Commons," he wrote, "but that's not yet clear and I don't want to make any claims that I cannot follow through on."
But for now, Wright will maintain ownership of the building, but California's Modern Times will be leasing the space, and those fancy new brew tanks in that fancy new space will turn out Modern Times beer instead—which has already made a huge push to enter the Portland beer market on taps around town. Modern Times will rechristen the Commons space as the "Belmont Fermentorium."
New School reports that Modern Times' cellar manager Mat Sandoval will become lead brewer in Portland, and that the tasting room will be moved into an the adjacent space at 600 SE Belmont that Modern Times also procured.
The changeover will happen by the end of 2017. In the meantime, the Commons is still brewing: You've got three months of myrtle, and three months of farmhouse, and three months of that fresh, delicious pilsner. And then, maybe you won't.
This is the first big beer closure of the current era. And this one's going to hurt.
Here's the full statement from Modern Times:
We’ve got a big announcement here, folks, so strap in. First, a little background. I’ve loved the city of Portland for a long, long time. I’ve been visiting regularly for well over a decade, and I gave serious consideration to starting Modern Times in PDX. I ultimately decided to stay in San Diego, where my roots in the brewing scene were deepest, but I never gave up on the dream of building something in Portland. I love so much of what Portland stands for: the kickass food and drink scene—of course—but also the bike culture, the appreciation of good design, the ubiquity of Secret Aardvark, the progressiveness, and much, much more. Once it became clear that Modern Times was going to be a success, I began giving some thought to how we would grow. And what I decided then—which I’ve been telling people openly for years—is that I’m not interested in building a giant new brewery in some dreary suburban industrial park here in San Diego. It’s not my jam for a whole host of reasons. So what I decided we would do instead is build another location like the Lomaland Fermentorium somewhere else: a place that functions as both a production brewery and a neighborhood hangout. And that “somewhere else” for me was always going to be Portland. I knew that was going to be the plan well before I was able to act on it. It’s been something of an open secret within Modern Times from the beginning, in fact. Even before we started distributing in Portland, we scheduled collaboration brews there, both to deepen our relationships with brewers we admire and to give ourselves a business excuse to visit a city we love. Since we’ve started distributing in the PNW, we’ve been blown away by the acceptance and warm welcome we’ve received from beer drinkers and brewers alike. I was given no shortage of warnings about how difficult it would be for an out of town brewery to succeed in Portland, but I always felt like we had a chance to be the exception to the rule. And thus far, that has indeed been the case, which is incredibly heartening and has reaffirmed my feeling that the second Modern Times production location should be there. So, with an eye towards finding a space that could be leased and built-out in time for a 2019 opening, we started working with a real estate broker. He began sending us raw spaces, which would have required over a year to build-out, which is what we expected going into this. But after we’d begun the search, I got an email from Mike Wright, who owns The Commons and the 10,000 sq ft building on Belmont that the brewery occupies. We’ve collaborated twice with The Commons and developed a close bond with them. Hell, even before the collabs, when Modern Times was just a tiny start-up, I got an incredibly gracious email from Mike saying that he’d had a chance to try a can of Lomaland and that he was extremely impressed. As an insanely stressed-out new business owner who looked up to The Commons in a big way, that email meant a great deal to me. When Mike contacted me earlier this year, he let me know that the current space wasn’t working well for their operation and asked if I was interested in leasing the space. It pretty quickly became clear to me that this was something we should do. It filled a real need for Modern Times—we’re capacity constrained, in part due to our success in the Pacific Northwest—while helping out a friend of the brewery who had shown us support and solidarity along the way. Just recently, we officially signed a lease on the space. I need to pause here to make very clear what is not happening: we are not acquiring The Commons. The Commons is vacating their space, and Modern Times is leasing the space from Mike, the building’s owner. I realize this key point will probably get butchered in the telling and retelling of this news, but at least I did my best to make it clear. So, what does this mean for Modern Times? It means that on January 1st, 2018, we will be the new tenants of 630 SE Belmont St, which we’ve dubbed The Belmont Fermentorium. We plan to close for about a month, while we bring in new equipment and add some of our distinctive art installations to the tasting room. The nice thing about this project is that, unlike our other seemingly interminable construction projects, it already exists and so the timeline is much firmer. After we re-open—with a suitable celebration—The Belmont Fermentorium will begin producing all of the Modern Times draft beer for distribution in the Pacific Northwest. First year capacity should be around 7,000bbls. Obviously, this will mean even fresher, better, locally-brewed draft beer for all of our fans in Oregon, Washington, and Idaho. The tasting room will serve the greatest hits brewed on-site, in San Diego, and at our forthcoming R&D brewery in Los Angeles (which will open before the end of the year.) The Belmont Fermentorium will also function as a pick-up location for The League of Partygoers & Elegant People. Additionally, we’ve signed a lease on the neighboring building (600 SE Belmont), which is a 10,000 sq ft raw shell (the same size as 630 SE Belmont.) This space will take at least a year to renovate, but once it’s complete, it will house a packaging hall and tank farm, which will allow us to brew and package all canned beer for PNW distribution. Final capacity for combined spaces should be around 20,000bbls. Once 600 SE Belmont opens, we also plan to add a coffee roaster and café, along with a full food set-up. It should be pretty radical. Alrighty, that’s it for now. We’re incredibly excited to be coming to Portland, and we’re so looking forward to becoming a pillar of the local brewing community in a city we love so dearly. Cheers & thanks, Jacob McKean
Modern Times Beer